What is snowshoeing?
Snowshoeing is a recreational activity that involves walking, running, or climbing through snow conditions that would otherwise make the path difficult to traverse.
A snowshoe is a special apparatus that goes on over one’s normal winter shoe to allow snow walking without sinking in or slipping on deep and/or slippery snow covering.
Snowshoes allow one to enjoy hiking in otherwise tedious conditions. They allow one to go running, or even race in snow. Snowshoes allow people to safely reach otherwise unreachable locations in a wintery environment—for practical reasons or just for recreational exploration.
Price Guide & Amazon Rating
Atlas Elektra Rendezvous
Tubb’s Flex Ridge
MSR EVO 22
Dark Blue, Mineral, Red
Louis Garneau HG Men’s Transition
Tubb’s Men’s Flex Alp 24
Crescent Moon Gold 10
Apple Red, Lollypop Blue
How Do I Snowshoe – Beginners Guide?
The first thing you need to do to begin snowshoeing is assess where you’re most likely to be doing the sport, then you can choose specific snowshoes and accompanying gear.
If you’re a beginner, you should probably stay on relatively tame trails and therefore your technical requirements in a snowshoe are not that high.
Generally, you need to look at the accompanying chart or list that accompanies snowshoe listings to see what length of snowshoe you need for your weight. Keep in mind that you may weigh more with a pack on your back.
Also, the snow conditions make some difference. If you’re going into powdery dry snow, you will sink much more easily (so you really need to be sure the shoe can float your total weight). If you’re going into slushy or icy-topped snow, you’ll especially need traction.
Most snowshoers like to have trekking poles with snow baskets (traction-creating structures at the pole bottom), and these are particularly recommended for beginners.
While as a beginner you should avoid steep inclines, if you end up on any inclines, there are basic techniques. To climb, be sure to dig the front of the snowshoe (and the traction elements at the bottom) into the snow before you. To descend, walk heel first and lean back.
Types of Snowshoe
A trail is a prepared or already used path, so normally a trail should be an easier snowshoe journey. Generally, the inclines are lower and you may go at whatever pace you wish.
Consequently, snowshoes for trail walking don’t have to be the absolute best. Therefore, beginners (who also may not have the most advanced snowshoes) certainly should start on trails.
That said, trails vary, so if you really are a beginner, you should still make sure it’s a manageable trail and that you at least have decent snowshoes for beginners.
Backcountry is potentially uncharted territory—the terrain might be steeper and the snow could be deeper.
This is where the technical demands of snowshoes are highest: great traction, flotation (ability to keep the foot from sinking), foot-shoe connection, sturdiness, and comfortable stride are critical in backcountry. Generally, backcountry is for more advanced snowshoers.
This is probably a less common use of snowshoes. However, if you’re looking to get optimal speed in the snow, traction and flotation are all the more important.
Also, more than ever, the weight of the snowshoe comes into play—a heavy shoe might be sturdy and have great traction, but it will slow a runner’s time.
Steep terrain really just increases the demands for traction and a stable, comfortable foot-shoe connection. Shoes that cause a lot of unwanted shifting in foot position are especially uncomfortable and tedious on steep terrain, so any signs of this trait in a snowshoe should not be tolerated.
Many climbers like their snowshoes to have a climbing bar—which is engaged manually—to raise the heel up during long, steep ascents. While not essential, this puts the foot in something closer to a normal walking position during climbs and relieves the ankles and calf muscles.
Beginners Vs Experienced
Snowshoers of all levels need the same basic functionality elements, but experienced snowshoers need top-notch products.
Beginners can probably get away with a less expensive product that’s not quite as durable or perfectly designed, since beginners are more likely to stay on tame trails with fewer obstacles and smoother inclines.
Also, getting the best snowshoe on the market is less important if you don’t think you’ll regularly snowshoe in the future.
However, some qualities might be more important for beginners—ease of use and comfort. Ease of use is a phrase that usually refers to the lightness of the snowshoe.
Really durable snowshoes with great flotation and intense traction tend to weigh more, but a beginner may not need as much flotation, traction, and durability—instead the added weight is more likely to be cumbersome and exhausting.
Also, the beginner especially needs a snowshoe that’s easy to handle technically (easy to take on and off, easy to adjust the fit, etc.) and is generally comfortable to walk in (good shape for individual’s stride).
Features to Look for in a Good Snowshoe
Flotation refers to the capacity of a snowshoe to keep the wearer’s feet from sinking into the snow. The increased surface area over which the wearer’s weight is distributed is what creates flotation.
Generally, more flotation is considered good, but not the increased surface area, especially that due to width, of the snowshoe can make it more cumbersome to walk. So, there has to be a balance between flotation and stride ergonomics (easiness of walking). Dry, light snow is easier to sink in than hard-packed or slushy snow, so more flotation is needed for powdery flakes.
Because flotation needs can vary a lot—especially in the Western United States (Colorado, for example), many snowshoe brands offer flotation tails that can be slid onto the frame to give another 6 inches or so of length.
Frame and Decking Material
The frame is essentially the body of the snowshoe. Some sort of V-shape is the ideal frame shape. Frames are usually made of some sort of processed aluminum, but the quality/durability can vary.
Especially in backcountry, where one may encounter rocks and other unevenness, the frame needs to be durable. Unfortunately, even high-quality aluminum doesn’t seem to create the traction that plastic does, but plastic, while often cheaper, isn’t quite as durable and is annoying for anyone trying to walk quietly.
That said, a good quality product will generally perform well unless it’s put through extreme conditions. Decking is the part under the foot, to which the bindings attach the foot. Frequently, it’s made of a flexible material, chiefly nylon.
The shape and material of the decking likely plays a role in the overall comfort of a snowshoe, but personal preference may come into play here.
Traction is the resistance of the snowshoe to sliding. In snowshoes, this is achieved by means of crampons, cleats, and rails. Crampons, the best ones being made of stainless steel, are incisor-like pieces usually under the toe or ball of the foot.
Cleats are similar to crampons but are generally placed elsewhere along the length—possibly the heel. Many high-quality backcountry snowshoes have traction rails near the perimeter of the frame as well. These help on steep ascents/descents.
Bindings (Comfort and Security)
Traditionally, bindings have been either a system of straps placed strategically around the foot or a system of intertwined plastic lines and webbing. Beginners and advanced alike want a comfortable, secure fit.
Sometimes, however, comfort and security conflict with one another. Excessive binding apparatuses may make the fit restrictive and uncomfortable, but not enough will make the fit lose and unstable.
The Boa binding system is a relatively new and heavily-praised development. It involves a binding with an integrated system of wires driven by a dial—the entire system tightens around the shoe as the dial is turned by the user.
Another thing to consider about bindings is rotation: fully rotating bindings add flexibility on uneven surfaces but they can cause drag. Fixed rotation bindings are optimal—they rotate to a limited extent—creating an ideal balance.
Added length gives greater flotation, but it can make a more awkward stride; so, these two traits have to be considered for the ideal equilibrium.
Added width may give greater surface area and consequently greater flotation, but especially for more petite people, added width makes for more cumbersome walking. Ultimately, individual preference comes into play.
Another notable ergonomic element is heel lifts: heel lifts are props that fold out under the heel. They make the stride more natural on steep ascents to prevent calf strain. They’re not likely to be that important to you unless you’re sure you’re going somewhere really steep.
Weight (Ease of Use)
Generally, even for experienced men, a snowshoe needs to be under 5 pounds. Otherwise, it will be exhausting and cumbersome to walk. Beginners, women, and runners will generally want less weight in a snowshoe.
For women and young people, this happens naturally, as women and children generally weigh less and do not need a large of a snowshoe in the first place.
10 Best Snowshoes Reviewed
1. Atlas Elektra Rendezvous [Women’s—Best snowshoes for beginners]
The Atlas Elektra Rendezvous is the best beginner snowshoe for women. It’s specially designed for female users and it has all the important features of a good snowshoe for a relatively low price.
The Elektra Rendezvous bindings are shaped especially for female shoes and its overall shape caters to the female gait. Its bindings are generally easy to use, but one user complained that the heel strap felt unstable.
The Rendezvous has a quality traction system, including front and side crampons and a heel cleat. In spite of this, it’s reported to fall short on very steep terrain (but this isn’t likely to come into play for beginners). However, it has excellent flotation—really the defining trait of a snowshoe.
2. Atlas Run [Women’s—Best snowshoes for running]
While it’s a unisex shoe, the Atlas Run is both narrow and short, and it’s so lightweight, that it’s still the best running snowshoe for women at a reasonable price.
The frame shape is designed for running and the decking has spring loaded suspension to make steps quicker and easier. It has the Boa closure system, which makes for quick, easy, and very stable fastening.
As a running snowshoe, the Atlas Run isn’t so good for other snowshoe uses—this seems to explain its low Amazon rating. You really should only consider the Atlas Run if you’re a runner.
3. Tubb’s Flex Ridge [Women’s—Best snowshoes for hiking]
The Tubb’s Flex RDG(Ridge) is suitable for both men and women, but it only comes in a 24-inch length that the floats up to 155 lbs and the shoe itself is relatively light for a hiking snowshoe. So, in general, it’s probably better-suited to women.
It’s easy to work with, as it has the much-lauded Boa bindings, including an effective heel strap. The Flex RDG has both side traction rails and ball-of-foot crampons, characteristic of a snowshoe made for almost all terrain.
Expanding its use to steep ascents, the Flex RDG also has heel lifts and its bindings have rotating capacity. Some complain that the flotation isn’t quite ideal, but for smaller people, this is unlikely to come into play.
There are mixed reports about the bindings, some saying that they aren’t so secure but others having no problem.
4. MSR EVO 22 [Women’s—Best snowshoes for backcountry]
The MSR EVO 22 is a relatively small and light snowshoe that the durability and traction a backcountry snowshoe should have. Its traction apparatus is a part of its deck which reduces chances of parts breaking off. The EVO 22’s bindings are easy to work with, even with gloves on.
For a relatively small snowshoe, it offers adequate flotation, but if you need even more, the EVO 22 can be used with a separately sold flotation tail that adds 6 inches to the original 22-inch length, without compromising the female-friendly narrow design.
Some users complain that the EVO 22 is fairly loud on impact with hard snow, but this isn’t likely to be a problem unless you’re hunting. The EVO 22 doesn’t have heel lifts—for this, the user should upgrade to the slightly more expensive EVO Ascent model.
5. Tubb’s Xplore [Men’s—Best snowshoes for beginners]
The Tubb’s Xplore is ideal for beginners as it’s relatively inexpensive, lightweight, and simple in its construction. The bindings lock and unlock easily.
The ergonomically designed frame has a mechanism to let go of snow that accumulates on the frame and provides very good flotation.
While the Xplore may not offer the level of traction you would want for intense snowshoeing with steep inclines, it does have good quality crampons on the toe and the heel—this is satisfactory for a beginner.
A few users complain about the binding coming undone and not fitting over some footwear. However, many contradict this and claim that the bindings are unusually good.
6. Louis Garneau HG Men’s Transition [Men’s—Best snowshoes for running]
The Louis Garneau HG Men’s Transition is relatively short and very lightweight for a men’s snowshoe, making it perfect for speed. The quality aluminum frame is shaped for running and the decking is made of highly durable materials.
The Men’s Transition has the much-lauded Boa closure system, which makes for a quick, easy, and very stable fasten.
As a running snowshoe, the Men’s Transition isn’t so good for other snowshoe uses, because it’s made for running on hard, relatively flat surfaces. Consequently, its flotation is relatively low.
Traction isn’t quite as critical for a running snowshoe, but the Men’s Transition is adequate in this area, including good sideways traction.
7. Tubb’s Men’s Flex Alp 24 [Men’s—Best snowshoes for hiking]
The Tubb’s Men’s Flex Alp 24 are one of the best snowshoes for steep terrain—which makes them great for both hiking and backcountry travel.
It has an excellent traction system, including carbon steel crampons under the decking and side traction rails for stability during any sideways motion on an incline.
Also good for sideways motion is the decking design that allows the foot to move flexibly with uneven ground. The Flex Alp 24 has very comfortable bindings and special attention was clearly given to making it ergonomically superior.
In fact, its shock absorption is above-average and its weight is fairly low for a men’s hiking/backcountry snowshoe, all of which makes it the ideal shoe for those with foot problems or joint pain.
Traction and comfort are this shoe’s strengths (perhaps slightly less so flotation), so it’s ideal for uneven ground in icy snow.
8. Crescent Moon Gold 10 [Men’s—Best snowshoes for backcountry]
The Crescent Moon Gold 10 is one of the top snowshoes on the market. The aluminum frame, stainless steel crampons, and polyurethane deck are high quality and the design is true to the company’s excellent reputation.
Also with its extensive set of crampons and claws, the Gold 10 is really for serious snowshoeing and is rather expensive.
Some very experienced users feel that the traction is not quite up to the level it should be on very steep ascents and claim that the Crescent Moon Gold 10’s close competitor, the MSR Lightning Ascent, performs better in this area.
However, for most users, the Gold 10 is still an excellent backcountry snowshoe at a somewhat lower price than the MSR Lightning Ascent.
9. Chinook Trekker [Youth]
The Chinook Trekker comes in 5 lengths, starting with an unusually small length of 19 inches. The offering of this small size and the inexpensiveness of the Trekker make it a great choice for children.
The shoe is lightweight and comfortable, and the bindings are easy to work with. It has rotating crampons on the ball of the foot and heel crampons to give traction. The snowshoe also has a mechanism to keep snow from accumulating in the top of the frame.
As a bonus for beginners, the Chinook Trekkers come with a carrying bag. Some users complain that the Trekker isn’t very durable for adults in backcountry settings. However, this isn’t likely to be a problem for most children, as they’re lower in weight and not as experienced.
For children who might be more serious about snowshoeing, the MSR Tyker is a higher-quality, but somewhat more expensive, option.
10. Sno Stompers [Toddler]
Sno Stompers aren’t real snowshoes, but they’re probably sufficient for most children who are barely old enough to be walking in the snow. Children five years old and under will likely find most regular snowshoes, even small ones, rather cumbersome.
The Sno Stompers, with their 10-inch length and light plastic material, give some flotation without awkwardness. They;re easy to take on and off. Amazon offers one color (green), but the company website offers an additional two (blue and pink), so there’s a fun color for any small child.
There is a warning that the shoe contains small parts. If you put these shoes on a child younger than three years of age, definitely supervise carefully. A perk of these shoes as an investment is that they also work nicely on sand.
Which Footwear goes with Your Snowshoes?
The ideal snowshoeing boot is waterproof, supportive, light, durable, and insulating, but not too insulating. Your feet are more likely to sweat even in cold weather when you’re doing physical activity.
Hiking boots, winter boots, and running shoes can all fulfil these requirements. Because snow melts into water, the waterproof element is of more importance than usual.
If a boot or shoe isn’t sufficiently waterproof, you can put them through waterproofing treatment, but it’s probably easier to get a waterproof boot from the get-go.
A perk of having hiking boots for snowshoeing is that they’re versatile. You can also use them if it turns out you will just be hiking on snow-less terrain.
The one problem with them is that generally, they will eventually get soaked with water during snowshoeing.
Winter snow boots
Winter snow boots are also a great option.
They generally have removable liners, so they’re easier to dry out after being soaked with water.
However, they’re more likely to be stiff, heavy, and not so breathable.
Generally, running shoes are the least advisable option.
However, if the temperature isn’t too low, the snow isn’t too deep, and the shoe handles water well.
Then running shoes might be a light, comfortable option.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the best brands of snowshoes?
MSR and Crescent Moon are probably the best snowshoe brands. However, there are close competitors such as Tubb’s, Atlas, and Louis Garneau.
All of them offer snowshoe for different experience levels, with the shoes for the most experienced often being the best quality and the most expensive.
For example, the MSR Lightning Ascent is the most expensive snowshoe but also the one most frequently rated number one for all terrain.
When is the best time to buy snowshoes?
It’s best to buy snowshoes ahead of the time you will be using them, because that way, you can plan out exactly what you need and can get a great price.
If you wait until you have got to have them now, you may pay more for a less comfortable (and possibly more dangerous) experience.
How do I size Snowshoe length?
In general, more length means more flotation. While more flotation is needed for all sizes of people on powdery snow (more commonly found in the western United States), flotation needs are directly related to weight—both of the wearer and his/her backpack.
Most snowshoe brands offer a weight chart or at least a maximum weight that the shoe can float. Some models offer tails that you can attach to the back of the shoe for more flotation without an increase in width.
With only minimal increase in shoe weight, this is a good option for smaller people in powdery snow.
How do I attach snowshoes to my shoes?
To put on snowshoes, you just insert your snow boot (with your foot inside) into the area over the decking and tie the bindings. How you tie the bindings depends on exactly what sort of bindings you have.
You might have to simply tie the straps around your shoe, tighten a ratchet, or turn the Boa system dial. While you want a secure fasten, don’t tie too tightly because this can cause pain.
How do I attach snowshoes to my backpack?
Many backpacks have straps along the back or sides that are suitable for attaching snowshoes. Generally, you should tie the snowshoes both along the entire body of the shoe and through the binding.
What are the best conditions for snowshoeing?
Snowshoeing is obviously to be done in snow—usually enough snow that sneakers, and even winter boots, are ineffective. On a trail, normal winter hiking boots are sufficient unless the snow is so deep that it comes up the leg.
Snowshoeing is the way to go for any snowy backcountry travel. If, once you get out there, it turns out that the snowshoes are not needed, this isn’t a problem—most quality snowshoes are fairly easy to take off and carry in one’s backpack.
What Should I Wear When Snowshoeing?
While not essential for beginning level expeditions, trekking poles are generally good to have. They give a hiker or climber some added stability and reduce chances of falling or slipping. In snow, you should put snow baskets at the end of your trekking poles. (Snow baskets are like little snowshoes for your trekking poles.)
Here are a couple of examples of really well-rated trekking poles that are a good value:
Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork
Montem Ultra Strong
Another great accessory to have is gaiters: Gaiters are durable, waterproof leg protectors that keep the legs dry and protected from injury from sharp crampons or cleats at the bottom of a snowshoe.
Outdoor Research Verglas Gaiters (versions for men and women available)
An especially recommended model of gaiters is the Outdoor Research Verglas Gaiters (versions for men and women available).
While it’s very important to stay warm in snowy conditions, any athletic activities will make the body produce more heat (and maybe even sweat), and a heavy or bulky coat might cramp your style.
Synthetic fabric winter coats offer lighter and more breathable covering at a better price. Also, synthetic fabric usually stands up to water better.
Note that, aside from a good coat, you should wear layers and possibly carry another layer in your backpack. Here are a couple of the best winter coats for snowshoeing:
Outdoor Research Cathode
(Men’s and Women’s available)
Patagonia Hyper Puff
(Men’s and Women’s available)
While it’s not the first thing you would think of, appropriate pants are also important to the snowshoeing experience. Pants for hiking and snowshoeing should be not only insulating, but also durable, breathable, flexible, and waterproof.
Here are a couple of the best pants for snowshoeing:
Outdoor Research Ferrosi
(men’s and women’s available)
prAna Stretch Zion
(men’s and women’s available)
Similarly, a good pair of hiking socks is a must-have for serious snowshoeing. Poor socks may contribute to blisters, painful pressure points, and uncomfortable (and possibly smelly) sweating. Merino wool is reportedly the best material for hiking socks.
Here are a couple of the best socks for snowshoeing:
REI Co-op Lightweight Merino (men’s)
Darn Tough Coolmax
Micro Crew Cushion
(men’s and women’s available)
Waterproof winter gloves are essential during snowshoeing. Many of the same gloves that are suitable for skiing and other winter activities are great for snowshoeing:
Dakine Titan (Men’s) Gloves
& Sequoia (Women’s) Gloves
Burton Gore-Tex Gloves
(Men’s and Women’s available)
It’s also optional, but advisable, to wear either a hat (or hoodie on a jacket). Many people enjoy the added warmth, at least during breaks in activity.
Staying Safe in the Snow
Some hazards of snow activities are a bit ironic. You can get sunburn from sun reflecting off snow, so the relatively small amount of exposed skin could be at risk. Also, the cold winter air is dry and therefore quite dehydrating, so it’s important to bring water.
While walking in snowshoes seems fairly intuitive, a complete beginner should make sure to start slow and give him/herself time to get comfortable. Also, the beginner should be similarly careful with trekking poles—make sure to get a firm grip so as not to injure others or yourself.
Also, remember that snowshoes have very sharp elements on the bottom, so keep yourself and others from being cut against the snowshoe bottom.
Waterproof clothing, especially shoes, is so important. Getting wet will make you colder. Wet feet are more prone to blisters.
If you’re snowshoeing where there are also skiers, realize that the skiers must have the right of way because it’s harder for them to stop or change course.
Snowshoeing is a great way to explore the outdoors in winter and to get a wonderful workout for people of all fitness and experience levels. With a little research, a beginner can easy get the right gear at a good price for a safe and comfortable experience walking in the snow.
So, don’t eat the dust (or powder, rather) of ski enthusiasts. With snowshoes, you can safely explore and enjoy beautiful snow-covered outdoor terrain—whether you’re on a mission to get somewhere, striving to push yourself athletically, or just want a nice walk.
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